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Thursday Thoughts: Hope-Driven, Gentle, Quiet, & Submissive Women

on March 13, 2014

ImageFairy tales tell variations of the same love story over and over again. Handsome boy meets beautiful girl. Boy and girl instantly fall in love. The couple is soon married and lives happily ever after. With just about every fairy tale, chic-flick, and love story promising a handsome, kind prince and a happily-ever-after ending, young women tend to look for a mate and enter marriage with fairy-tale expectations.

The reality of marriage can sometimes jar these expectations. H. L. Mencken, an American journalist in the first half of the 20th century said, “Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him.”

The reality of having to submit to this husband who perhaps is not quite the prince you imagined him to be is even more jarring. Regardless of their husbands’ walk with God (or lack thereof), godly wives graciously submit to their husbands with a gentle and quiet spirit because they hope in God.

The Conduct of a Godly Wife

1 Peter 2:13-3:7 discusses Christian submission. Peter begins by commanding Christians to submit to civil authority.  He then specifically addresses slaves, then wives.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1-2)

The command to submit (v 1)

Peter addresses wives, particularly wives of unsaved husbands. He commands them to submit to their husbands—whether or not they are saved. Submission is a choice on the part of the wife, not a demand on the part of the husband. The responsibility is the wife’s.

The culture of Peter’s day would have been amazed to see a wife who did not adopt her husband’s religion. Plutarch, a Greek historian who lived around A.D. 46-127 described this cultural thought: “A wife should not acquire her own friends, but should make her husband’s friends her own. The gods are the first and most significant friends. For this reason, it is proper for a wife to recognize only those gods whom her husband worships” (Advice to Bride and Groom 19, Moralia 140D, italics added).

The unsaved husband (v 1)

The unsaved husbands are described as those who “do not obey the word.” The phrase do not obey emphasizes the rebellion of the husband who refuses to submit to the Word of God.

The method of winning (vv 1-2)

Rather than submitting to whatever her husband’s desires may be regarding her devotion to God, the wife is to attempt to win her husband to God. In all other areas in which a husband is not asking a wife to sin, she is to submit to her husband.

One of the reasons Peter tells these wives to submit to their husbands is that the husbands might be won without a word. The point is that a wife can only give the word (the Gospel) so many times to her husband before it turns into nagging and badgering. Once the Gospel has been given, she is to win him over, not with her words, but through her conduct. The wife’s conduct should be pure, in fear of God.

Wives do not submit in order to satisfy a husband’s vanity or to promote his reputation. Neither do they submit to show how godly they are, nor to avoid conflict, nor to impress the neighbors, nor to manipulate their husbands, and not even because she thinks he is wise. She submits because of her relationship with and trust in God (Schreiner, New American Commentary, p. 152, italics added).

Augustine, a Christian convert during the 4th and 5th centuries (though heavily influenced by Catholicism), wrote the following about his mother, Monica:

[When she] was bestowed upon a husband, she served her husband as her lord. She used all her effort to win him to You, preaching You to him by her character, by which You made her beautiful to her husband, respected and loved by him and admirable in his sight. . . . Towards the very end of his life she won her husband to You (Confessions 9.19-22).

A godly wife will fear the Lord supremely. Thus, if her husband ever asks her to sin in any way, she is not be obligated to obey (see Acts 5:29). However, even this must be done graciously.

The Character of a Godly Wife

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

A warning against focusing on the external appearance (v 3)

At first glance, Peter seemingly warns that women should not braid their hair, put on gold jewelry. . . or wear clothing! Peter’s teachings regarding women’s appearance were actually an echo of the Greco-Roman writers of the day. Their point was not that women should refrain from making themselves attractive, but that they should not spend undue time and money in order to make themselves showy and/or seductive.       

A focus on developing an internal beauty (v 4)

Rather than focus on their outward appearance, women should focus on developing their relationship with God, their “hidden person of the heart” (v 4).  While clothing, hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, and physical beauty all fade, Peter states that the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit will never fade.The phrase “very precious” is the same word that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:9 for “costly attire.” What is precious, costly attire in God’s eyes is a gentle and quiet spirit.

Not only is such a gentle and quiet spirit very precious in God’s sight, but it is attractive in the eyes of a husband. It can be attractive enough, in fact, to perhaps cause an unsaved husband to be won over to the Gospel.

I spent a bit of time with our ladies talking about what it means to have a “gentle and quiet spirit.” I think we often think of a “mousy” individual who doesn’t talk much when we think of gentle and quiet. I looked up many of the verses in the New Testament that use words like gentle and quiet to try to get the full picture. One of the verses that I highlighted was Matthew 11:29, in which Jesus says,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from mefor I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (emphasis added).

Jesus is the example of gentleness we are to follow. This was the God-man who could handle a bruised reed without it breaking and who could hold a smoldering flame without it being extinguised (cf., Matthew 12:20). As we exemplify Jesus’ gentleness, we find “rest” or quietness for our souls.

As I studied the word quiet, I found that it often refers to “a tranquil disposition free from the inner turmoil that causes disturbances in the community” (ISBE). As we become more like Christ and his gentle nature, we will find our hearts at rest in him. We will develop a “gentle and quiet spirit.”

In such a culture as ours—as well as Peter’s, one can imagine—examples of women with the conduct and character of a godly wife may seem rare. If such seems the case, one needs only to turn back to the Old Testament for examples.

The Children of a Godly Wife

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:5-6)

OT examples in general (v 5)

Peter states that “this [with a gentle and quiet spirit] is how the holy women. . . used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (v 5). We could cite many examples here: Hannah (1 Sam 1), Abigail (1 Sam 25), and many more.

These women did not submit to their husbands because they thought their husbands were smarter or superior. They submitted to their husbands because they were “holy women who hoped in God.” They trusted God, his promises, and his commands, and they submitted to their husbands.

Sarah, an example of submission (v 6)

Peter then specifically cites Sarah, the wife of Abraham. The women of old submitted to their husbands, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (v 6, italics added).

Verse four made it clear that submission requires the correct attitudes. However, we must note that submission includes obedience.  “Nothing less than obedience is required. In other words, submission does not merely involve being considerate or adapting to one’s husband” (Schreiner, NAC, 156).

Sarah is set up as an example because she obeyed Abraham and called him lord. In Genesis 18, the Lord appears to Abraham, promising him and Sarah a son in their old age. Sarah was in her tent but overheard the promise. She laughed to herself because the thought of she and Abraham having a child in their old age was ridiculous. She then thought or said to herself, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (v 12, italics added).

This passage is the only place in the Old Testament where we see Sarah call Abraham “lord.” This was the passage to which Peter was referring. It is interesting to note that her only-recorded reference to Abraham as lord was not to his face. Rather,  it was how she thought of him. In an every-day situation, she showed her respect for her husband’s leadership by referring to him as lord. This showed that her habitual, regular way of treating him was with obedience and respect!

We wives are considered Sarah’s “children” if we also continue to do right and not fear. Wives who hope in God will obey God and submit to their husbands with obedience and gentleness, not fearing the results.

  • An unbelieving husband may cause fear to rise. Lack of “obedience” to his sinful commands may have negative consequences. One may also fear that a husband will never be saved.
  • Perhaps even obeying a godly husband may bring fear to one’s heart. Remember some of Abraham’s decisions? Twice, Sarah was taken into a king’s harem, because Abraham was afraid to admit they were married (Gen 12; 20). She was probably also terrified when Abraham, obeying God, went to sacrifice her only son Isaac (Gen 22).

Whether a godly woman has a believing or an unbelieving husband, her hope in God will cause her to overcome that fear and obey with a gentle and quiet spirit. Even for a wife who doesn’t necessarily “fear” her husband, her hope in God will motivate her to obey God and submit to her husband even when her husband does not perfectly fulfill his role as a leader and godly husband.

Conclusion

It is the responsibility of every believing wife to submit to her husband. Though particularly challenging for the wife of an unbeliever, the command still holds true. In fact, her submission, as well as her gentle and quiet spirit, may actually lead her husband to accept the Gospel.

All women should model themselves after the examples of godly women in the OT. We can especially look to Sarah (more on her next week!), who exemplified a hope in God, causing her to submit to and obey her husband without fear.

All women, whether married or not, young or old, should look to Christ as our example of gentleness and develop that character in our own lives and thus have quiet spirits.

**The above is part of First Baptist Church of Rockford’s Ladies Bible Study on Biblical Womanhood.**

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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